STOWE, Vt. -- Like many men, I once thought of spas as glorified beauty parlors where women went to be groomed and pampered -- definitely not places for real guys like me.
Times change. As I found out recently after a visit to the Topnotch Resort and Spa here, spa treatments can be just as appealing to men -- and just as relaxing and renewing.
I began my spa experience with a gentleman's facial, one of the most popular male treatments. As instructed, I showed up about 15 minutes before my appointment, stripped to my underwear, and changed into a terry cloth robe and slippers in the men's locker room. Then I sat down to wait in the adjoining lounge, a clubby room with comfortable armchairs, an outsized TV tuned to ESPN, and a selection of male-oriented magazines like GQ and Outside.
At the appointed time, a male attendant brought me to meet my ''esthetist," Amy Young, whose job it was to cleanse, relax, and hopefully rejuvenate my aging face.
In a treatment room, I slipped between the sheets on a table and lay on my back. Amy began by covering my face with a cranberry-based cleanser that she said was good for removing excess oil from men's skin. As she worked, I asked her what made the male facial different from the female variety.
''For gentlemen's facials we use products designed for men's skin that's been roughened by shaving," she explained. ''They also have herbs and spices with a natural woodsy aroma that's more masculine. Ladies prefer flowery smells."
In succession, Young applied various substances to my face, including a gel to exfoliate or remove dry skin, a cranberry-based toner, a cranberry and pomegranate moisture mask, and a ''comfort and calming" nourishing cream. At one point, she sprayed my face with hot steam to open the pores, the better to absorb all these applications.
The cumulative effect was irresistibly relaxing, and I closed my eyes and drifted off. As she began massaging my face, I was awakened by the sound of my own snoring. ''It's all right," Young assured me, ''everyone falls asleep." It wasn't exactly a beauty sleep, but at the end of the treatment, my face was relaxed and glowing and I definitely felt a lot better.
The next day, I had another of the spa's male specialties: the Vermont woodspice treatment. This 80-minute, three-step experience -- with a different room for each step -- is meant to relax muscles and rejuvenate the senses using a blend of herbs that includes ginger, allspice, eucalyptus, cloves, spearmint, rosemary, balsam needles, oats, lavender, and birch bark. (The women's version uses wildflowers.)
For the first step I lay naked under a towel on a table while massage therapist Marcia Sibley sprayed me down with very hot water. She then proceeded to vigorously scrub my back, legs, and feet using a loofah pad and a compound that was both stimulating and aromatic. ''It's a mix of sea salt and maple sugar granules," she explained.
In the next room, after being wrapped in hot, wet linen sheets that had been soaked in an infusion of woodspice herbs, I was left to happily marinate for about 15 minutes.
The final step was a long, deep massage, using penetrating oils. Sibley described her technique as ''classic Swedish massage with a little shiatsu." It was a winning combination.
When the treatments were finished, I not only looked and felt better than I have in years, I also smelled like a spring day in the Vermont countryside -- and that's not bad.
Contact William A. Davis, a Cambridge freelance writer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.